Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Neal Justin

Neal Justin: 'The Patient' offers viewers a fresh chance to analyze Steve Carell's talent

"The Patient" isn't the only series to burrow into a therapist's head. "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Sopranos" and "In Treatment" all featured psychologists or psychiatrists who could benefit from their own time on the couch.

But this new Steve Carell drama, premiering Tuesday on Hulu, is the first in which the shrink, Alan Strauss, gets kidnapped by a serial killer who insists on being cured of his homicidal urges — preferably while he's wolfing down a gourmet takeout meal.

For those who know Carell only from "The Office" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," his role as Strauss may seem like a stretch. But the actor has already proved his dramatic chops in "The Morning Show" and "Foxcatcher," which earned him an Oscar nomination.

"The Patient," however, comes with some challenges, not the least of which is that his character spends most of the 10 episodes with one leg chained to the floor.

"When I get chained in, it was a real lock with a real key and I thought, 'Boy, if there's an earthquake or a fire, I hope somebody thinks twice about letting me out of here,'" Carell told TV critics earlier this month during a virtual news conference. "But I even liked to be chained up when I wasn't on camera. It added to the vibe of that space and being there so long. It really took on sort of an ominous quality."

One of the aspects of Carell's performance that's so astounding is that you're never really sure if Strauss is truly offering up the best counsel or saying whatever it takes to get released.

"The stakes of conventional therapy are already pretty high. People's health is at stake. But in this circumstance, the therapist's life is literally at stake," said Carell. "We talked long and hard about how much of it is therapy and how much might potentially be a manipulation just to save oneself. They're all folded in together: the horror of it, but also just the human empathy of trying to follow your vocation and help another human being."

Joel Fields and Joseph Weisberg, who also created "The Americans," wanted to write a show about therapy. But they knew that a series needed some compelling drama, as well. In addition to the kidnapping, they added a back story in which Strauss is mourning the recent death of his wife and an estrangement from his son.

And they made sure that the captor, Sam Fortner (Domhnall Gleeson), had a few colorful quirks, like a passion for ethnic food and Kenny Chesney.

"The great appeal of Kenny Chesney is that he's not just a great country artist but he also has this No Shoes Nation," said Weisberg. "You could sort of see how Sam might be sort of a fan and a follower of that. It gives him an alternate social world."

Gleeson, who you may recognize as Bill Weasley from the "Harry Potter" movies, seemed happy not having to play Fortner as yet another variation on Hannibal Lecter.

"Sam was incredibly specific," he said. "It was really about asking questions of myself and asking questions of the script as opposed to looking for answers on the internet or in research. I enjoyed that journey tremendously."

Gleeson may have the more colorful role but it's Carell that keeps you riveted, showing great range despite limited room to move. Don't be surprised if the actor earns his 12th Emmy nomination.

"I loved it," said Carell. "I hope that I'm chained up in the set for everything I do going forward."


Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.